Client Wants the Files...what would you do?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by samiwas, Dec 18, 2012.

  1. samiwas macrumors 68000

    Aug 26, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    So, a little background. I'm a freelancer in my industry. I work both one-off projects that last a few hours, to several weeks at a time with repeat clients. I am paid my a mixture of 1099 and W-2, so it's all kinds of different things. I am not incorporated, nor have a company of any sort. I'm just me.

    I've been working with one particular client for over eight years now. In fact, they have been over half of my yearly income for the past eight years. Recently, they were purchased by another company, and that company took over most of the projects that I work on and my direct manager. The business I work in is largely not contract-driven for individuals, thus I never have a contract. It's just very uncommon, and yes, I know that would fix a lot of things.

    Anyway, to the point. I got drafted into the pre-pre-pre production of a new project. The project manager I have been working with for years asked me to help with some of the drawings. As part of our process, I threw out the idea of doing some 3D work to help with the design process. She really liked that idea, and pitched it to the main people. They thought it might be good and allowed a small budget to get a basic idea formed. I work hourly from home. What I have done is fairly highly skilled. The idea was that they could look at a mockup and decide if they wanted to pursue this with me.

    Now that I have spent the time to do it, they want me to turn over my files so that their own design team can try to take it from here.

    Now, I know that generally when you are employed by a company, whatever work you do under them belongs to them. But, as a freelancer, not contracted to the company, does the same thing apply? Would you turn over all of your files to a company that only paid you for a few hours in order to preview your work? I think they can own the renderings, but the application files?
  2. obeygiant macrumors 68040


    Jan 14, 2002
    totally cool
    Well if you know that they're going to try "to take it from there" they're obviously going to sever ties. So offer them a buy-out. You have the leverage so what do you have to lose? If this is a big account and they're a big company I wouldn't go for less than 50% of the money you've made over life of the project. Or ask to be hire as a consultant for a few months to supervise the transition.
  3. sviato macrumors 68020


    Oct 27, 2010
    HR 9038 A
    Ask for an offer for your work and prepare a counter-offer.
  4. throAU macrumors 603


    Feb 13, 2012
    Perth, Western Australia
    If they've been paying you to generate the files, they own them (imho, morally at least).

    The law may vary in your area depending on what contract (if any) was signed, and any verbal agreements that were made.
  5. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    Doesn't sound like they were paying for the files, but for some initial time generating concepts for a future projects with the artist.

    So basically the idea and concept is still something that needs to be bought and paid for, something that would happen automatically if they pay to move the project forward.

    However, when they want to take the concept and move it in house, they really haven't paid for much if anything yet. So the files and concept likely still belong to the author.

    Much like a new car design. We really really like your 3d models and want our guys to finish it. Hey here's money for a few hours of your time, now give us the design and the files, so we can finish it.
  6. ucfgrad93 macrumors P6


    Aug 17, 2007
    Sounds like it might be worth it to consult an attorney.
  7. mobilehaathi macrumors G3


    Aug 19, 2008
    The Anthropocene
    Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!
  8. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030


    May 18, 2004
    so for the past 8 years, have they been a 1099 or a w2 payer? That's going to define whether you've been freelancing for them as a temporary part-time employee (their files) or as an independent contractor without a agreement (your files)

    it looks to me that you were hoping to expand the type of work you do for them but after the preview, they decided to stay with their existing people?

    Ultimately though, you're going to have to ask yourself whether it's worth jeopardizing a relationship that's provided more than half your income for the last 8 years.....even if you do own the files
  9. samiwas, Dec 18, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2012

    samiwas thread starter macrumors 68000

    Aug 26, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    The original company was paying me W2. The company that bought them that I now work for seems to be continuing that so far. So yes, I would guess I'm a temporary part-time employee for a few months at a time here and there.

    To my knowledge, their existing people haven't yet done any work on this project. What it sounds more like is that they don't want to pay for an "outsider" to do the work, and would rather try to get their already-swamped in-house staff to do it. The funnier part is that no one knows if the in-house staff even knows how to use the application I did all my stuff in, or if they even run that application. And it's my personal computer and application, so obviously if they don't own it, then they can't do anything with it anyway.

    Yeah, that's a big part of it. But the problem is that I have no real relationship with the new company other than being a part of the company they bought, and they seem to be pretty set on using only their in-house people, even though they were already swamped even before the new projects were brought in. The project manager is dead set on using me...the bean counters are not. Such is life. My goal is definitely to prove to them that they need someone with my skills.

    I don't know if we're quite to that point. So far, it's been only a couple dozen hours I spent on these as a mockup hoping to get the work that would keep me employed for several months developing this project.


    In the end, I don't think their people will be able to do what I hopefully that will win me over. I guess my first order of business is to find out whether they even run the software I use.

    Thanks for the info everyone.
  10. throAU macrumors 603


    Feb 13, 2012
    Perth, Western Australia
    Irrespective of how the legal side would turn out, I guess you have a choice here:

    - comply, hand it over
    - not comply / demand money
    - legal proceedings

    Is it worth going down the non-comply/legal path over the value of this work, considering it may tarnish future prospects with the client?
  11. jeremy h macrumors 6502

    Jul 9, 2008
    I increasingly run into this situation these days. (However, I would add that our situations probably aren't identical so YMMV.) Most of my clients are repeat clients and new business tends to come through personal recommendation - so that informs my approach.

    I tend to favour this approach and often just 'roll over' in this situation. Nine times out of ten they come back to me. Generally the requests to have the files back come from a manager (rather than the knowledgable ones at the sharp end). The managers thought process seems to start with 'Isn't there an app to do that?" and eventually ends up with "Why is this stuff so hard?"

    It might be worth trying to go in and see them and being honest over a coffee about your situation. "I can really help - I know your stuff inside out, think how long it will take to train up an in-house freelancer... etc etc" before deciding what to do. I would say they owe you a full hearing at the very least...

    Having said all that, if it's a huge one off though (with not much chance of further work) - then 'burning your boats' with a legal approach could well be the thing to do.
  12. throAU macrumors 603


    Feb 13, 2012
    Perth, Western Australia
    ^^ agreed with that.

    If the work is truly skilled stuff they will have issues getting someone else to do then they may well employ you to do the job anyway.

    Are they definitely aware that you are keen to see the job through to completion?

    Sounds like the bean counters are the ones that need convincing, and money talks.

    Get the project manager on board with estimates on number of unproductive hours for another person to get familiar with the project, any software costs they will incur, etc.

    If the bean counter can see that they will be throwing money away and going nowhere for x days/weeks whilst a new guy gets up to speed on the project they will hopefully make the decision that makes financial sense.
  13. twietee macrumors 603


    Jan 24, 2012
    Me too. Also, is the project manager you know still around somewhere? Since I assume you don't know the new people / manager it may be useful to ask her first how she experiences/ed them, e.g. are they friendly/cooperative, a pita, etc. pp.

    Our (fairly small) office is at times in the same situation and it's part of the investment not to be too 'rude', you may call it correct, for such questions during the very beginning of projects. But the larger the client: always a contract (where it's e.g. defined what files/format we have to deliver), may involve lawyers too.

    Good luck!
  14. seveej macrumors 6502a


    Dec 14, 2009
    Helsinki, Finland
    To a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail, and an attorney will probably see this as a legal problem.

    I think you should also consider it as a negotiation/business challenge:
    - What do they want and what do you want?
    - is there a way you can make them a proposition which splits the difference or gives both parties everything while taking the deal to a higher level?

    Remember, a negotiation is zero-sum (i think literature refers to it as distributive negotiation) only if both parties want it to be that. Try to think of a way to enlarge the pie.

  15. samiwas, Dec 19, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2012

    samiwas thread starter macrumors 68000

    Aug 26, 2006
    Atlanta, GA
    That's what I'm hoping for. Unfortunately, the mockups are just that: mockups. With more time, I can provide a whole different product. I have sent them a link to view other work, so I can only hope that has swayed them.

    Considering I gave the company they bought first priority on every job, and have only had to miss a few days in eight years (my first day with them on site was to be the day after my wedding....), and that I am trying to get them on board for something that is practically my dream job (and I have expressed this), then I hope they are aware!

    You are correct. As far as I know, the PM is trying as much as possible to convince them, but they are bean counters for a reason. They also have this permanent staff, so it doesn't cost them any more to have them do the work.

    I think it really boils down to: this is a new process which none of us have ever done before. It's something that could save us a lot of time on site (on site time is very expensive), but it's not proven. So I think they are weary.

    Yes, the PM has been one of my PMs since my very first day on the job over eight years ago. We've stuck through all sorts of other management changes. She's definitely fighting for me, but as she is also new to the new company as well, her voice isn't as strong. She says the production team seems to be on my side, but above them it's a different story.

    I'm going to go ahead and send them the files. For now, I think this means I'm out. At least that will make it that much better if they come back.

    Thanks everyone.
  16. Yujenisis macrumors 6502

    May 30, 2002
    Thanks for giving us the update on your final decision. Keep us posted about how things go going forward.

    This is a very tricky situation that many self-employed types find themselves in. Good luck!
  17. AhmedFaisal, Dec 19, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 11, 2013

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